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Remember: National Reconciliation Week

19 May 2017

This year Reconciliation Week marks two significant milestones in Australia’s reconciliation journey. It marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision.

On the 27 May 1967 more than 90% of Australians voted ‘yes’ in a referendum to reduce inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Before 1967, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did not have the same rights as other Australians under our rule book - the Australian Constitution. State governments made laws for Indigenous people and First Australians were not counted in estimates of our population.

The vote changed the way laws were made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It shifted power from state governments to the Commonwealth. And for the first time, First Australians were counted equally in official estimates of the Australian population. This meant the Commonwealth Government could make laws that benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

One of the most important outcomes of the Referendum was to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a symbol of recognition.

Twenty-five years later, on 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia determined that terra nullius (land that belongs to nobody) does not apply to Australia. This historical event is recognised as the Mabo High Court decision, named after long-time campaigner, Eddie Mabo.

Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo, with fellow plaintiffs, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee, believed the Torres Strait belonged to Torres Strait Islander peoples and challenged the legal principle of terra nullius.

This decision recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and can still exist today.

It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993.

During this National Reconciliation Week we commemorate the significance of these events in our nation’s history.

For more information about National Reconciliation Week celebrations around Australia, visit Reconciliation Australia.